On arguing with fools, and Prof. Ann Althouse in particular

There’s an old Yiddish expression that translates roughly:

“Never argue with a fool. People might not be able to tell the difference.”

That’s good advice, and the fact that I ignore it too often is, I confess, an error and a fault.

But there’s also an old English expression of equal authority:

“In for a penny, in for a pound.”

So having foolishly engaged via Twitter with Prof. Ann Althouse of the University of Wisconsin Law School, and having attracted counter-fire not only from the good Professor herself but from her even less adept colleague Prof. Glenn Reynolds of the University of Tennessee Law School, it seems wise, just this once, to respond at some length. Don’t read on unless you have a prurient interest in folly, or in trolling, the bastard child of folly born of its occasional dalliance with intellectual dishonesty.

Continue reading “On arguing with fools, and Prof. Ann Althouse in particular”

Megan McArdle, gender discrimination, and Blue Blogistan

The treatment of Red-team females on the Net isn’t something the Blue Team should be proud of.

I’m not going to bother to refute the “Democrats do it too!” responses to my earlier post about Republicans’ addiction to violent hate speech. That sh*t just won’t wash.

But the fact that your neighbor actually has a beam in his eye doesn’t mean that you don’t have a mote in yours. While eliminationism is pretty damned rare on the Blue team, rudeness, intolerance and abusive misreprentation – the semi-deliberate misreading of opposing views to make them seem less valid – aren’t as rare as they should be, in a community that prides itself on non-judgementalism, open-mindedness, and a basis in reality. “We’re better than Bill O’Reilly” isn’t really a very high standard.

One example that has come up on this blog is the treatment of Megan McArdle, now at Bloomberg. Megan is a friend, and a far more subtle and nuanced thinker than many of her libertarian confreres. She is perfectly capable, for example, of recognizing that social insurance can facilitate entrepreneurship and other forms of socially desirable risk-taking. Her book on failure, which I read in manuscript, is superb.

That’s not to say that Megan isn’t an opinionated libertarian, or that she doesn’t sometimes overestimate how much economics she understands in ways that justly outrage professional economists. But it has long seemed to me that the contempt with which she is sometimes treated, both in comments here and elsewhere, is far out of proportion to her actual offenses. And it seems to me that I’ve deteced a trace of gender bias. In particular, there have been hints that my promotion of her work, and defense of her against attack, must be based not just on friendship but on erotic attraction. (The same happened when I defended Ana Marie Cox, whom I’ve only met twice. In each case, the visual evidence provides some apparent basis for the charge, but it simply wouldn’t come up in the case of an equivalently attractive male blogger – assuming that such a creature exists – if the person doing the defending were female, or a gay male.)

Following up on Amanda Hess’s complaint, McArdle has now posted a well-crafted essay on the extreme abuse to which female participants in internet discourse are routlinely subjected (to which Conor Friedsdorf, having guest-blogged for Megan, also testifies) and an even better essay on why accusations of sexism (or, as she does not say, racism) are so likely to be counter-productive.

It seems to me that progressives in particular ought to take this set of problems seriously, and that the two McArdle essays linked to above fully justify my claim that she is someone worth reading even if you come from an utterly different ideological place.

That won’t keep me from making merciless fun of Megan if, as I hope, her gleeful predictions about the demise of Obamacare are falsified by experience. (Megan hates it mostly for the same reasons I love it: without any consideration of its virtues as health care reform, it’s a massive downward redistribution of income, and it’s a signature accomplishment of a President and a party I support and she opposes. Of course I still think that her own point about failure strongly supports the decoupling of health insurance from employment.) But enough with the gendered personal abuse already.